Monday, November 30, 2009

Mother's Pancake House & Restaurant, Aurora

Mother's Pancake House & Restaurant
459 N Randall Rd
Aurora, IL 60506


November 23, 2009

We've already reviewed the original Mother's on Galena Blvd -- over three years ago when we were just starting this blog -- so this entry on their newest location will be extremely brief. I don't remember exactly when they opened their new restaurant on Randall Road, but I think it's been open for nearly a year. I don't know what took us so long to drop by, but now that we have, I don't know if we'll be going back to their original location again! That's most certainly an endorsement, albeit the sort of one that the owners probably didn't bargain for.

I ordered the pumpkin pancakes, which may or may not still be available beyond Thanksgiving, now that Christmas and all its seasonal-themed foods are upon us. These were very good. The pumpkin taste is very deep and rich, and the artificial sweetness that's so common in this dish elsewhere was nowhere to be found. The light dusting of cinnamon sugar (?) on top was a nice touch. What will I get next time? I have no idea, though I'm sure that the menu is identical to the one at their sister location, where I've never found myself for lack of tempting choices.


Ayinsan here. I got my usual favorite--Cinnamon roll French toast. It's just as tasty here as it is in the other location, served with cinnamon butter and cream cheese frosting. I don't really want to think about how many calories are in this, but it's absolutely delicious.


Overall, this restaurant is a bit more attractive than the other. Our server was friendly and came back to our booth several times to ask if there was anything else we needed.

We were given rolls, which you don't always get with breakfast--once, at the other location, someone started to give us a basket and then actually tried to take it away when they realized we were getting pancakes. As if I'd ever turn down a refined carbohydrate. Toast with my French toast? A muffin with my waffle? Why, sure! Then I'll eat that little orange-slice on my plate so I can feel like I've had a serving of fruit along with my mountain of various breads.

In all the time we've been doing this blog, there have been only a couple incidents where someone noticed and commented on our camera...but when they do, it's always with a touch of nervousness, as if they think we're here to sell their corporate secrets to a rival breakfast chain. In this case, the hostess asked about it when we came in. Playfully: "Sooo, I notice you have a camera..." Then, with a slight edge of suspicion creeping into her voice: "What is it for?" Relax, we're not government spies, we just run a pancake blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eggsperience, Naperville

2727 W 75th St
Naperville, IL 60540

September 3 and 28, 2009


The first time we went to Eggsperience, we had a bit of difficulty finding part because we couldn't remember what it was called. We kept thinking the name was "Eggsceptional" or "Eggstraordinary" or something like that. The actual name is much more unassuming. It's not suggesting you're going to have an "eggceptional" experience there, simply an "eggsperience"...that is, some sort of experience involving eggs. They aren't implying that it will necessarily be great.

Overall, in fact, this was a mixed experience for me. This could be due in part to the surroundings, which are vaguely depressing--a cluster of expensive stores (Whole Foods, World Market, et cetera) just sort of sitting out in the middle of nowhere in a parking lot the size of the Sahara Desert, bordered by empty fields and a subdivision filled with McMansions. These huge buildings loom over you as if to symbolize the helplessness of the individual in a world of powerful super-corporations. Of course, that's not the restaurant's fault, but it's hard not to be influenced by stuff like that, even if it's just on a subconscious level.


On my first visit there I got the banana pancakes. While palatable, these were nothing to write home about. They were pretty much what you'd expect from a place like this. Though it's been a couple weeks since our first visit there, I seem to recall the pancakes being rather dry and bready. In the world of breakfast restaurants, there's a wide spectrum of pancakes: some are chewy, some are crispy, some are exceptionally moist and fluffy. These were just sort of like flat, sweet pieces of bread with banana slices. But if that's your thing, maybe you'll like them.

Blueberry Waffle

My second visit was a bit better. I got the blueberry waffle--a big Belgium waffle which comes topped with a generous helping of fresh blueberries (seriously, they don't skimp), along with some blueberry syrup. They call it compote, but I generally think of compote as being thicker. This was liquid...not that I'm knocking it, you understand. It was pretty good.

I ordered a side of bacon with it as well, and their bacon is definitely above average. Thick, neither too crisp nor too fatty, with a nice smoky flavor.

Despite the fact that we've been here twice now and despite the fact that it's called "Eggsperience," I've never actually tried their eggs. Maybe it's kind of silly to review their restaurant without even tasting their namesake, but what can I say? I just wasn't in the mood for eggs during either of our visits there.

EggsperienceInside02 EggsperienceInside01

This really isn't a bad restaurant. The waffle I got was certainly tasty, and there were a few other items on their menu that looked intriguing... though unfortunately, Eggsperience falls into the all-too-common category of restaurants that give their entrees silly-sounding names like "Yummy in Your Tummy French Toast." Maybe some people can say that with a straight face and not feel the least bit embarrassed. I'm not one of those people. I mean, that's almost as bad as IHOP's notorious "Rooti Tooti Fresh and Fruity."

Joe here. Our visits to Eggsperience were both on weekdays and in the early afternoon, not the busiest time for most restaurants and Eggsperience was no exception. We were quickly seated each time. The service was quick and the staff was friendly. I had coffee on one occasion and found it satisfying.

EggsperienceCoffee EggsperienceTripleCrown

On our first visit I ordered the Triple Crown Waffle. A single Belgian waffle with heapings of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries on top. Wholesome, very good, not disappointing. On my second visit I was struck by the urge to try their potato pancakes. It's probably been almost three years since I last ordered these anywhere. Prior to that, I don't even remember the last time I had them at all. What I'm trying to say is this isn't a dish I'm very familiar with, so take my opinions on them with a grain of salt. That said, I really wasn't a big fan of these. I was given a generous serving of four, and while the first was satisfying and pleasing in its creamy texture and rich flavors, the second and third were just too much for me. Once I used up my sour cream and applesauce, I'd had my fill and couldn't even begin to tackle the last one on the plate. I guess I better stick to waffles and "normal" pancakes from now on.

Potato Pancakes

I think I've had just about all I can take of life in the suburbs. Sitting in traffic, waiting for stoplight after stoplight, driving past giant store after giant store, each a symbolic eyesore of how compartmentalized our lives have become. I drive through a sickening glut of this every day on Randall Road through Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles, but that strip doesn't hold a candle to the congested stretch of Route 59 in Naperville between On The Border and The Home Depot. I've frequented the Baker's Square there, shopped at the mall, and really want to visit the new Hollywood Palms movie theater sometime soon, so I'll be the first to admit that I'm just as much of a little Eichmann as anyone else in the cars next to me. But what a wretched and depressing "community" this is. I guess Eggsperience is fortunate to be located on the southern edge of it, maybe even catching some good vibes from the Whole Foods across the parking lot, but altogether I just don't know if I can bring myself to pass through this gauntlet of big box chain stores and gimmick restaurants (R.I.P. Pizza to the People) to get to it once again without losing my mind.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Richard Walker's Pancake House, Schaumburg

Richard Walker's Pancake House
1300 N Roselle Rd
Schaumburg, IL 60195-3646

July 18 and 21, 2009


Richard Walker's Pancake House boasts three locations nationwide, two of which, fortunately enough, can be found in Illinois. With restaurants in Schaumburg and Crystal Lake, Richard Walker's remains a north suburban institution. Based on word of mouth alone, there's no reason to believe that the microchain couldn't open more locations across our fine Midwestern agglomeration. But I suppose there's something to be said for avoiding the temptations of oversaturating the market and inadvertently soiling one's own brand name. Focusing on a handful of restaurants is probably better for both the customers and the employees, anyway.

The first branch of Richard Walker's opened in 1989 in Schaumburg, where we finally visited last week for the first time. The restaurant itself sits in a rather unassuming strip mall, occupied by a sports bar, a flower shop, a used CD store, and a Planned Parenthood Express (surely the subject of the same "do they offer drive-thru abortions?" jokes every day). There's a small outdoor seating area near the entrance, well-occupied by customers during both of our visits. Inside the foyer you're greeted by pleasant classical music, and the staff was quick to greet and seat us as we walked in. The interior is lavish and clean, adorned by typical pancake house decor (mirrors, fake plants along the ceilings, stained glass) but also 19th century paintings, adding a touch of class to your meal.


The menus at Richard Walker's have a sprawling, fold-out design, somewhat visually imposing in its sizable presentation of items. It's quite possible that their selection is quite comparable in size to most other breakfast restaurants but the flip-style menu just feels bigger than most book-style ones you'll find at other restaurants. On my first visit I ordered freshly squeezed orange juice (some of the best I've had anywhere) and the blueberry and sour cream crepes.

RichardWalkersDrinks RWBacon

My crepes were tender, warm, some of the best I've had in quite some time. The cup of fruit compote was a little on the small side but this was only compared to the heaps and mounds of toppings that many restaurants drown their dishes in; the serving size was more than enough to satisfy. Its description on the menu ("Juicy Blueberries Mixed with Sour Cream and a Dash of Triple Sec makes this a Berry Delight, Sprinkled with Powdered Sugar and a Side of Blueberry Compote") is tempting enough, matched only by its presentation on the plate, as you can see. As we were leaving, a curious customer at the next table over stopped me to ask me just what it was that I'd ordered.


Our first visit nearly lived up to the expectations we'd had for it. I say nearly because during the three years that we've been running this blog, no restaurant has received recommendations as enthusiastic as the ones we've received for Richard Walker's. So it's an understatement to say that we had high hopes going in, perhaps too high to be satisfied by a single visit. And besides, there were too many other things on the menu we wanted to try, so we returned three days later for another early afternoon breakfast. Hopefully three years of surveying the local pancake scene would have refined our palates and left us in a better position than most to evaluate the offerings and the experience of this respected restaurant. I can't speak for my better half but personally, I really don't know if my epicurian sensibilities have matured at all since I was making Pilsbury pancakes in the microwave as a middle schooler.

On my second trip, I ordered the 49ers flap jacks. Due to the name I was expecting some kind of old-fashioned pancakes, made with buttermilk or grits or other "hearty" ingredients that our hard-working ancestors relied on for sustenance as they tirelessly panned and dug for gold in the shadows of the Sierra Navadas. In reality, these kind of pancakes are nothing like that. I'll defer to Wikipedia for the clearest description of flapjacks (flap jacks, FLP JKS, etc.) I can find:

There you have it, a well-known breakfast favourite for centuries that I'm only beginning to understand. The texture on these was very interesting: a crispy layer ala Swedish pancakes, the chewy stretchiness of crepes, but the satisfying bulk of a normal pancake. Quite an interesting twist on something I thought I knew inside out.


I think we got our money's worth on both of our visits. Despite the lengths they go to to provide a premium breakfast and an attractive atmosphere, their prices seem comparable to most breakfast restaurants. Then again, unlike "gourmet" hamburgers, hot dogs, or pizza, there seems to be a limit that people will pay for common breakfast foods, no matter how well they're prepared. At any rate, we enjoyed our time at Richard Walker's and will certainly return in the future. But don't take our word for it. Check out their website and see it for yourself. Now if only their webmaster would proofread the title bar. Richard Walker's Pankcake House? I guess no one really needs proofreaders anymore.

Ayinsan here. On my first visit to Richard Walker's I got the banana pecan pancakes. Actually, I think the menu called them flapjacks, which is odd considering that they're not anything like the flapjacks shown above. They're really just pancakes. But they were delicious. Probably among the best pancakes I've ever had. And I approve of their generous use of powdered sugar. Most pancake restaurants will just give you a little grudging sprinkle, but it looks like these pancakes have been sitting under a tiny snowstorm. Or perhaps a snowman sneezed all over them. No, the snowstorm metaphor is probably better.


The bananas were fresh and chewy, which is also very important. Nothing ruins a good plate of pancakes like an overripe, mushy banana. And the pecans...well, it's hard to screw up pecans, I guess. But these ones were fine. Service, needless to say, was excellent. Richard Walker's lives up to its reputation. On both occasions, we were seated right away, and our servers were quick, attentive and polite.


On our second visit, I decided to try something non-pancake, so I got the pecan waffle. Yum. Not much to say about it: it's a waffle and it's got pecans (both on top and baked inside). But it was quite tasty. What else to say about Richard Walker's? Well, there's an interesting painting on the wall of a woman walking through a field with a scythe. I'm not the sort of person who usually pays that much attention to wall-art in a restaurant, but somehow this captivated me. What is she doing with that scythe? Is she just off to cut some corn stalks, or whatever it is you're supposed to do with a scythe? Or does she have some more sinister purpose for it? Only you, the viewer, can decide.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Egg Harbor, Geneva

Egg Harbor
477 South 3rd Street
Geneva, IL 60134

June 25, 2009


When we went to Egg Harbor in St. Charles, Swedish Days was in full swing, meaning there were rides and craft fairs all over the place and the streets were packed with people who seemed to believe that "having the right of way" means "having a magical, invisible force-field that protects you from all harm." As such, we had to navigate around roving packs of fair-goers, all blissfully unaware of my car's presence.

Once we got there, however, there was plenty of free parking in the vicinity. The restaurant entrance is kind of tucked away in a little alcove, easy to miss, but once you get inside, the atmosphere is friendly and cheerful. It was pretty busy, but we were seated right away and our waitress came within a few minutes. She was quite competent, even if she did mistakenly address us as "ladies"...a simple slip of the tongue for which she apologized profusely. But it does bring up an interesting point. Servers will often address a mixed-gender group as "guys," as in, "What can I get for you guys?" But the reverse doesn't seem to be true.


I got the blueberry pancakes with eggs and bacon. Good stuff, though nothing mind-blowing. The eggs and bacon were pretty standard fare, the pancakes were a notch above standard. And they came with a little side of blueberry compote. I love compote, even if it's probably one of the least appetizing words in the English language.

Joe here. I've been to Egg Harbor at least a half dozen times in the past two years thanks to my parents, who've slowly but surely drifted away from their regular residency at Colonial Cafe (where they were monthly, sometimes weekly regulars throughout the late 90s and into the first half of this decade) to new digs at the Geneva EH location. Nothing against Colonial, I'm sure. I think they just needed a new scene. This happens to all of us and it's nothing to be afraid of.

Nestled away in a classy, upscale shopping centre (the lavishly-named
Dodson Place) on Third Street near the Geneva Metra station, Egg Harbor brings you closer to Geneva's haut monde where you can shop for anything from fine wines and silk undergarments to $500 baby strollers. In this setting you might expect the dishes at Egg Harbor to be just as fittingly costly but the prices aren't unreasonable, which is to say that breakfast at Egg Harbor is going to be just as expensive as it is anywhere else these days.

The dining room is spacious and sunny, with lots of windows and a high ceiling. There's a patio outside, though I've never seen anyone using it. The atmosphere is inviting, a modern twist on the "country kitchen" vibe that lots of restaurants stick to. A warning to all alektorophobes: there are paintings, figurines, and various effigies of chickens all over the walls and shelves, so you may to steer clear. There are colored pencils at each table, but I don't think you'll get any paper unless you come with a few kids in town. I suppose you could ask for some, or just bring your own if you prefer. Better still, bring along some paints and a small canvas if you really want to pass the time until your food arrives. I never leave home without my watercolors and a telescopic easel. Should you go this route, the spaces between the tables are just wide enough for to set up everything you need. Just don't wash your brushes in the restroom sinks. You wouldn't want to take advantage of their hospitality, after all.

One thing I've always appreciated about Egg Harbor is the friendly service. This starts as soon as you walk in the door, though on busier mornings the lobby can get very crowded (and loud), so don't take offense if you're not greeted right away. The staff is always eager to please and willing to get you whatever you need. My family usually makes a few requests for extra water and/or coffee whenever we visit, and they're almost always quick to grant them with a smile. The servers are cheerful and polite. I don't even mind being mistaken for a woman by any of them; two years and counting at my current receptionist job and there's nothing anyone can say to further emasculate me. Five days a week, I'm just one of the girls! Why not go ahead and make it all seven?

I ordered the basic pancake combo, complete with three delicious cakes, sausage links, and poached eggs, which I almost never order even though they're probably my favorite kind of eggs. Altogether, a satisfying but not overfilling breakfast. If you want to stuff yourself until you burst, you've come to the wrong place. "Chew your food!" my grandmother would have yelled at you. "Taste it!" We rolled our eyes at her old-fashioned ways but as time passed I've grown to understand the true meaning of her words. Had she already discovered the truth?


There are fifteen different Egg Harbor locations. Which one is right for you? Try them all and find out!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Randall's Pancake House & Restaurant, South Elgin

Randall's Pancake House & Restaurant
305 Randall Road
South Elgin, IL 60177

June 9, 2009


Longtime readers of this blog might note a sorry lack of coverage devoted to pancake houses of the northern and northwest suburbs of Chicago. This isn't a deliberate shunning on our part, but an unfortunate sacrifice we've had to make due to rising gas prices over the past two years. At four dollars a gallon, it's a little hard to justify making an hour's drive just to get breakfast. I don't know about anyone else, but spending $40 on a tank of gas is enough to make me lose my appetite, anyway. With summer now upon us, it's even less likely that we'll venture much further north past route 64/North Avenue (let alone into the uncharted wilds of anything as far up as Lake County) just to try a new restaurant. There are a few that have been highly recommended to us several times, but that lie just out of our reach for the time being. We'll get to them someday, probably in much colder months than these.

For now, we were able to check out Randall's Pancake House in South Elgin, which might not qualify as a northern suburb but is a little off the beaten path for us. True to its name, Randall's is on Randall Road and on a stretch of it that's been pretty well developed over the past 5 years. I remember when it was all fields as far as the eye could see! Now there's a Super Target, an Outback Steakhouse and houses as far as the eye can see (on the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the Culver's has been there since pioneer times). Randall's blends into the strip mall on the east side of the road pretty inconspicuously, so look for Gyorr Avenue just south of the train tracks. "Strip mall" has become such a pejorative and loaded term, but I don't know any better way to describe a bunch of stores connected to each other in front of a big parking lot. Sorry!


I indulged in the berry blast pancakes. That's blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, plus whipped cream. All topping some seriously thick and fluffy cakes. Fruity pancakes? Whipped cream? That's kids stuff, right? Not anymore. This is real breakfast for adults, and anyone who underestimates what they're getting into is in for a big surprise. These were good, maybe not the best I've ever had but that's fine. There's a lot to choose from on their menu, the back page of which answers all all the questions you were too embarassed to ask. Breakfast looks like it's available anytime, but you'll need to take your late-night cravings elsewhere. They close at 3:00 on weekdays.


Ayinsan here. Randall's is a pretty nice place, overall. One of the drawbacks of going to a good pancake restaurant is that afterward, there isn't a whole lot to say about it except "it was good." The most interesting entries I've written are probably the ones where I've had something to complain about, but in this case, I really can't think of a single negative. Well, okay, the bathroom had a fake plant in the corner and I find fake plants kind of tacky in general, but overall it was still a good bathroom--cranberry-painted walls, nice mirror with a frame of bronze leaves, plenty of toilet paper, and a clean floor (very important). Anyway...

I got the banana chocolate chip pancakes, which come with warm, gooey chocolate chips both on top and baked into the pancake itself, along with fluffy tufts of whipped cream. Mmm-mmm. The banana slices were fresh and chewy, which is important. Nothing ruins a good pancake experience like mushy overripe bananas, but these were perfect. They give you quite a generous helping of pancakes, too. I usually have no trouble finishing a meal at a restaurant, but this time I had to take about a third of my pancakes home as leftovers.


I also got a side-order of sausages, which were delightfully plump and flavorful. I just reread that sentence and the phrase "plump and flavorful" sounds ridiculous to me, but really, it's the most apt description I can think of.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Silver Dollars, Yorkville

Silver Dollars Restaurant
102 E. Stagecoach Trail
Yorkville, IL 60560

April 2, 2009


Since the place is called Silver Dollars, we sort of assumed it was a pancake restaurant. Luckily, we were not disappointed.

Silver Dollars looks rather unassuming, with its sober dark green awnings and simple exterior. So I was kind of surprised when we stepped inside. Not that the interior is incredibly lavish or anything, but it's a few notches above what I expected. Clean, with nice decor. There's a TV above the brick fireplace at one end of the dining room, which I could have done without, really--while I'm trying to have a nice breakfast, I don't need to be watching a basketball game or hearing yet another news report about the impending financial meltdown of our country. There seems to be a growing trend of putting TVs in these kind of family restaurants, which seems to be part of a larger trend in our society of having TVs everywhere, from grocery stores to gyms. Apparently, we as a society have been conditioned to the point where we can no longer just talk to each other or sit in contemplative silence, we need a high-def screen with colorful moving images to hypnotize us into a glazed-eyed stupor.


Okay, that's not entirely fair. I learned something from the TV in Silver Dollars--that Guiding Light, a long-running soap opera, is going off the air in September after more than 70 years of radio and television broadcasts. Actually, I could have happily gone the rest of my life without knowing that. But I digress.

Aside from the aforementioned TV, I really have nothing to complain about. I ordered the Winter in Italy French toast, which came heaped with roasted apples, raisins and walnuts and drizzled with caramel sauce. Mmm. Not really sure what it has to do with winter or Italy, but it was sure tasty. The menu boasted several other unique creations, like cheesecake French toast. I'm not even a big fan of cheesecake, but if I ever come back here I'll probably try that just to see what it's like. No blintzes or crepes, which I usually expect to find in restaurants like these, but the wide variety of pancake and french toast offerings made up for it. And yes, they serve breakfast all day, though their breakfast menu is kind of tacked onto the end of their "lunch and dinner" menu.


One further note--this place has fantastic bread. That we even got a bread basket before our meal is a point in their favor, since some breakfast places won't do that, but their breadsticks are really above-par: warm, soft and chewy, with a light buttery garlic flavoring. Almost like the sort of thing you'd get in an Italian restaurant.

Good breakfast place, overall.


Joe here. I've passed Silver Dollars a handful of times in the past on countless different ventures through southern Yorkville, a trip I don't have much reason to make anymore these days. I never gave it much notice before; it's become as much a part of the local landscape as any of the surrounding woods or fields that dot the still-quiet areas of fast-growing Kendall County, so perhaps it's easy to miss. But for locals, it's probably a well-known landmark and a kind of public square that people visit as much to dine at as they do to simply to meet up and shoot the breeze. Upon our visit, I think we were the only customers who weren't stopping in simply to "have a meal." The clientele was decidedly on the older side and seemed engaged in a variety of friendly banter and gossip, but unlike other restaurants where this is prevalent, they all seemed like friendly and pleasant folks that I'd love to share a dining room with again someday.

Perhaps my expectations of Silver Dollars were colored by reading this article, which cites an unknown source suggesting that Silver Dollars has been open for more than 40 years. It's easy to buy into the idyllic, Rockwellian scene that the article paints, but I have to wonder how much of it is true. The business cards available at the front counter, along with the restaurant's website, proudly proclaim that it was established in 1996. I'm tempted to investigate this matter further, but some small-town mysteries are better left unsolved.

Considering the name of the restaurant, it's easy to assume that breakfast would naturally be Silver Dollars' exclusive niche. However, our initial visit provided several impressions to the contrary. The breakfast selections only take up a single page of their complete menu, otherwise packed with the usual lunch and dinner offerings. As featured on their website, there's a lot of traditional Polish dishes available as well. A large salad bar is prominently set up near the entrance, probably not offered during morning hours but well-stocked during our afternoon visit.


I ordered the silver dollar pancakes. This is about as basic of a dish as you can possibly get anywhere but I always like to order items that resemble the name of the restaurant, if possible. If the namesake dish of a restaurant isn't excellent, it's probably a good sign that it's not worth revisiting. Thankfully, these tiny pancakes were extra tasty. Check out these bubbles on the b-side; most cooks would find these undesirable, if only for appearance's sake, but these nooks and crannies added a pleasant texture to an otherwise predictable dish. The "winter in Italy" French toast was a succulent treat. Our bacon was crispy and lean. Altogether, an excellent meal.

With one coffee, our total came to $18.17, certainly a good value for what we were served. I imagine things get a little more hectic in the morning, but our afternoon visit was relaxed and laid back, probably the best time for anyone to try Silver Dollars for the first time. Recommended.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kiwanis Club of Aurora, 59th Annual Pancake Day

Kiwanis Club of Aurora
Aurora Central Catholic High School
1255 N. Edgelawn Dr.
Aurora, IL 60506

March 21, 2008


Closing in on its sexagennial anniversary, the annual Kiwanis Club of Aurora's pancake breakfast looks as lively and vibrant as ever! And by that, I mean it was just as good as it was last year. That's really all I can personally compare it to. Prominently advertised throughout the city, you really had no excuse to miss out this time around! Thousands upon thousands of steaming-hot jacks were flapped (as seen in these photos from last year) and all the money went to a good cause. Or at least I'm assuming it did. Contact these people if you want to find out for sure.

We were two of the last patrons through the door before the last call at 12:30, so we bought our golden tickets and quickly made our way to the serving area. We were lucky enough to receive (what we were told were) the final sausage links of the day. We would have been issued a grand total of four to split between us instead were given of a mere three. Our protests were preemptively silenced by an extra plate of pancakes swiftly handed our way. Of course, you can always go back for seconds (which we later did anyway) but it was nice to have a few more to chew on before begging for yet another helping. Very good pancakes, certainly not cooked to a gourmet standard, but the mess hall turntable griddle infused them with a friendly flavor that brought back memories of eating in church camp canteens as a young boy and a sense of community and "connectedness" with my fellow campers/neighbors/man that I didn't know existed outside of testimonials on

As we were finishing our meal, staff began collecting all the empty Styrofoam plates and cups left behind by previous diners and folding up the unoccupied tables and chairs. They went to work on our area, clearing away all the seating around us until we nearly had the front half of the room to ourselves, and hovered over us as we ate, eagerly plucking each individual napkin or butter packet away from us the moment it appeared we were finished with it. This was a surreal experience, to say the least, the stuff of high-concept music videos. Aside from this, it was a satisfying meal and we soon left the gymnasium feeling quite content.

There was a raffle for a gift basket but I turned down the offer to purchase a ticket for it. I'm kind of regretting it and wondering what could have been if I'd tried my luck. I guess there's always next year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coco Berry Cafe, Aurora

Coco Berry Cafe
4250 Fox Valley Center Drive
Aurora, IL 60504

January 27, 2008


We spotted this place the last time we went out to the Fox Valley Mall and decided to give it a try. We had some difficulty finding it again, because all we remembered was that it was near the entrance to one of the large department stores, but it was worth the trouble. Coco Berry is much classier than it looks on the outside. Really spacious, clean and bright. There was a host waiting to seat us when we walked in the door, and we didn't have to wait more than a minute or two for the waitress. Of course, it was early afternoon on a Tuesday and there were only a couple other customers in the restaurant. I imagine it's a little busier on a weekend.

I got the cinnamon roll french toast and a side order of sausages. Very tasty. Not quite as good as Mother's cinnamon roll french toast, but I have yet to find anything to compete with that. There were lots of other interesting things on the menu too, so I'll probably come back here to try some of their other entrees.


Joe here. I'm not sure just how long the Coco Berry Cafe has been open for business. I noticed it for the first time just before Christmas, and an encouraging profile appeared in the Beacon News a few weeks later. The name alone promises a sweet refuge from the frigid winter cold, a cozy and decadent oasis of hot and steamy treats. Look closer and you'll find more than just comfort food. Coco Berry Cafe offers much more.

To get the most out of our experience, we probably should have ordered some of their cocoa. Our server suggested some, or a latte, but we passed for common coffee. I'd venture to guess that their signature beverages are worth trying; there's a big coffee bar with tall in the front of the restaurant made just for their consumption. The picture I have of it is the only one I was able to take of the interior of the restaurant. The seating areas are large and spacious but not very photogenic and would require a wide angle lens to properly capture.


I ordered the wildberry pancakes. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries top off five (count 'em, five) satisfying and fluffy pancakes. There's a lot here, so much that I shouldn't complain that there wasn't any fruit baked into the pancakes themselves. You'll find lots of variations on this dish from pancake house to pancake house. At Coco Berry Cafe, the emphasis seems to be on freshness and subtlety, not on drowning their cakes in fruit sauce to win over the taste buds of sugar-addicted customers. But perhaps there are plenty of examples to the contrary that I haven't sampled yet.


Though the prices are a little on the high end and the ambiance felt a little on sterile side (probably less so depending on where you're seated/how busy the restaurant is), I enjoyed our visit to the Coco Berry Cafe. In the sea of chain restaurants that orbit the Fox Valley Mall (sorry "Westfield Shoppingtown"), Coco Berry brings a welcome personal touch.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Jam n Jelly Cafe, Darien

Jam n Jelly Cafe
7511 Lemont Rd
Darien, IL 60561

January 6 and 13, 2009


It's been nearly a year since Shea Cafe closed its doors, leaving the location at 7511 Lemont Road waiting for a new tenant. We anticipated something dull and useless like a loan office or a mattress showroom. What we got was... another restaurant, the third there in almost three years. It's a mystery why Lemont Street Cafe and Shea Cafe closed. As regular connoisseurs of their breakfast and lunches, we're pretty confident that it wasn't because of the quality of their food. But this sets the bar pretty high for Jam n Jelly. Just to stay in business, it reasons to assume, they'll have to somehow top their predecessors' efforts in almost every way. Will they succeed? Only time will tell.

Our first visits to JnJ gave us reasons to be optimistic. The restaurant has been renovated yet again, with a new pallate of gentle colors on the walls and pleasant decor hanging here and there. All the windows make sure that your meal is spent in pleasant (but never overwhelming) sunlight. Some of the servers (and possibly other staff) from Shea Cafe are back, bringing the same friendly service that we enjoyed before. Altogether, this is a comfortable and inviting place to spend a meal's time. Really don't know how I feel about the all-80's radio station that was playing on the overhead speakers during both of our visits, but at least it wasn't the horrible Jack-FM.

On the menu you'll find everything from traditional favorites to decadent breakfast treats that within less than a fortnight, surely ruined scores of healthy New Year's resolutions. One of the tamest of these are the PB&J cakes, covered in grape jelly and peanut butter chips. If you love peanut butter and jelly, you'll love these. Personally, after a few bites I'd really had enough, but this has more to do with unpleasant elementary school-age associations I still hold between brown bag lunches and chronic childhood headaches, not because of any failures on the part of the fine cooks.

JnJPBandJCakes JnJBlueberryPancakes

On my second visit a week later I ordered a plate of blueberry pancakes. Certainly not as adventurous of an entree but pretty good by my own standards. Plenty of blueberries cooked into the pancakes, along with a blueberry topping and a cup of warm, whipped butter. No surprises here, but that's just fine.

Overall, dining a Jam n Jelly Cafe is a wholly pleasant experience, with a great atmosphere and creative entrees that will leave you satisfied. I've yet to sample any of their more traditional breakfasts, but it's safe to say that we'll be going back to do so sometime in the near future. If Jam n Jelly shares the same unfortunate fate as its predecessors, then it's probably safe to blame the building itself on a continued lack of success, not the businesses inside it.


Ayinsan here. I was rather excited to see a new pancake house opening in the location of the now-extinct Shea Cafe...which was formerly Lemont Street Cafe, which was formerly another breakfast place whose name I can't remember (The Egg and I, or something quirky like that). Here's hoping this one lasts. Fourth time's the charm. Right?

This restaurant has a very good, breakfasty-sounding name, which is usually a good sign. Makes it seem more like a true pancake house as opposed to a family restaurant that just happens to serve pancakes round the clock...and real pancake houses tend to offer a better selection of breakfast foods. Sure enough, Jam and Jelly's menu has a lot to choose from, offering such creative options as PB&J pancakes, S'mores pancakes, turtle pancakes (Peanuts and caramel on a pancake? You bet!), banana bread french toast, and many more.

True to their name, they also have a selection of jams and jellies for sale, including some unusual options. Jalapeno jam? Worth a try, I suppose.


On my first visit here I ordered the banana bread french toast, which was quite decadent. I had a few bites of Joe's PB&J pancakes as well. The first two bites were absolutely delicious. After the third or fourth bite, it was almost too much sweetness. For me, that's really saying something. I'm a terrible sugar junkie. I'd probably chug maple syrup straight from the bottle and eat bowls of buttercream frosting with a spoon if not for the knowledge that such habits would soon turn me into an orb-shaped jelly creature with the arteries of a ninety-year-old. Even so, I'm not sure I could finish a plate of PB&J pancakes on my own. The sudden spike in my blood sugar would probably cause all my neurons to spontaneously combust or something. It's very sweet--a stack of pancakes slathered with warm grape jelly and peanut butter chips.


On my next visit, I tried the Have Somore Cakes (S'mores pancakes) along with some eggs, sausage links and bacon. The eggs and sausage were both above average, but the bacon was rather dry. As for the S'mores pancakes? Well, if you've ever had chocolate chip pancakes, they're rather like that, but garnished with mini-marshmallows and crumbled graham crackers. Pretty good, but not the mind-blowing experience I was expecting. Personally, if I were making S'mores pancakes, I'd cook the marshmallows right into the pancakes so they melted and mixed with the chocolate into a gooey sludge of delight.

In any case, this is a good place to visit if you're feeling adventurous and want something a little different than the ol' pancakes, bacon and eggs combo...though they have the old favorites, too, along with a variety of lunch and dinner options. I'll definitely be coming back here.